Putin Steps Up Crackdown on Opposition Press

Putin is not satisfied, of course, to ruthlessly suppress just mainstream media; he’s declared war on the blogosphere as well. Russia’s most-read blogger, Rustem Adagamov (who blogs on Live Journal as “Drugoi” or “The Other”), accuses the Kremlin of “unparalleled police brutality” as it escalates its attacks on opposition political demonstrations. He proclaims: “The Internet is the last free territory -- but it won't stay that way for long.”

Last week, there was a horrifying example of just what Adagamov meant: one of Putin’s ranking goons felt confident enough to openly brag that his forces were intercepting and reading e-mail correspondence sent by opposition political leaders, and using the contents to affect preemptive arrests and shut down demonstrations.

That was nothing, however, compared to what Putin himself had to say. Putin openly stated his forces would crack the skulls of any opposition party activists who dared to assemble in public without official police permission, and once again he ordered the arrest of former First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, who was taken into custody for doing nothing more than distributing his scholarly criticism of the Putin government’s performance at the outskirts of a rally.

The response of the Obama administration to all this neo-Soviet horror has been truly nauseating and unsettling.

A press release from the Clinton State Department says that Obama’s people are having a “conversation” about its “concerns” relating to the repeated violations of the Russian constitution, which contains the same right-of-assembly provisions as its U.S. counterpart. No mention of Putin’s remark, no mention of Nemtsov’s name, no direct support for the activists who are risking their lives to defend the American values set forth in the Russian constitution.

I would say we have a coward for a president, but to say so would imply that Mr. Obama believes in American values enough to stand up for them. Increasingly, that seems difficult to believe. Obama is not just silent on Russia, he’s been actively helping to legitimize the Putin regime, most recently by munching cheeseburgers with Putin’s figurehead president Dmitry Medvedev.

It’s heartening, however, to see that -- at long last -- the Republican Party has awoken from its stupor. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, stated bluntly:

Putin’s overt and public threat to beat democracy protestors has taken Russia’s ongoing assault against human rights and democratic rights to a whole new, disturbing level [and Russia] must be held accountable for its crackdown on all forms of dissent -- including the murders of journalists. Responsible nations cannot overlook Russia’s downward spiral towards tyranny and oppression, and must deny Russia membership in the World Trade Organization and all of the other perks which it does not deserve.

Hopefully, the GOP has now realized that standing up for American values is not just the right thing to do, it’s good politics. Americans want their nation to stand behind its creed, and they know that their best future lies in a world of freedom and open competition in which their efforts can be fully recognized and rewarded. If Barack Obama doesn’t share that view, it’s time to teach him the error of his ways.